• Credit: KAI
    Credit: KAI

The Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 Boramae fighter program has taken another step forward, with a prototype aircraft successfully making air-to-air refuelling contacts with a tanker aircraft.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defence (MND) announced on 20 March that the fifth KF-21 prototype made refuelling contact with a Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) KC-330 Cygnus tanker over waters to the south of the Korean Peninsula the previous day.

The KC-330 is the ROKAF’s designation for the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).

The announcement said that the KF-21 took off from the runway of the 3rd Air Force Training Wing at 9:45 AM" on the 19th before contacting the refuelling boom of the tanker.

The ROKAF’s 3rd Training Wing is based at Sacheon in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and is also where KAI’s manufacturing facilities are located.

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said that the air-to-air refuelling flight test program for the KF-21 began on 8 March.

DAPA said that this involved a preliminary inspection of the control characteristics between the tanker’s refuelling device (boom) and the KF-21 refuelling device (receptacle). 

“During the flight test, the DAPA focused on confirming and evaluating the impact of turbulence occurring behind the aerial refuelling tanker on control, the safety of connection and separation with the tanker, and the aerial refuelling function such as fuel transfer”, it added.

The KF-21’s full air-to-air refuelling test program will involve an approximate total of 60 sorties, and will likely see the aircraft undertake refuelling at various speeds, altitudes and weights.

KAI has made significant progress on the KF-21 program since the type’s first flight in July 2022. Six prototype airframes will undertake four years of testing with the flight test program planned to conclude in 2026 after 2,200 flights with mass production to begin after.

South Korea has earmarked the KF-21 to replace the ROKAF’s fleet of Northrop KF-5E/F interceptors. The type is a 4.5 generation fighter with limited stealth capabilities and is expected to be equipped with a range of indigenous and foreign weapons, including stand-off land-attack and anti-ship missiles.

The KF-21 will also be offered for export, with the Philippines and Poland having expressed an interest in procuring the type while KAI has reportedly offered the KF-21 to Thailand as it seeks to replace its older Lockheed-Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Indonesia has previously signed on to the KF-21 development program, although it has lagged behind its payments to the program and its continued involvement in the program is under some doubt.

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